Thursday, May 29, 2008

IS IT REAL? Chupacabras

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005-6

The story of the mysterious "goat sucker" -- el chupacabras -- begins in Puerto Rico, which in 1995 experienced a number of "mysterious" livestock death.  The media dubbed the culprit el chupacabras, and at the height of the phenomenon, 200 people combed the land each night hunting the creature.  As local vets began necropsies, the sightings began -- a strange green creature with spines down its back, wings, and glowing red eyes.  Soon, hundreds of people, unsatisfied by the explanation of natural predation, report sightings and begin forming their own investigation networks.  Conspiracies abound: alien?  Alien Pet?  Government experiment gone wrong?  But the research group theories lack any actual proof -- like many other myths.  A skeptic points out that the chupacabras is like answering a riddle with a riddle: What's killing the animals?  Chupacabras.  What's a chupacabras?  We don't know.  Three hundred animal autopsies show nothing unnatural, but the legend spreads to other countries, including the US.  The show points out parallels between the spread of the chupacabras legend and the European legend of the vampire.  The fact that chupacabras seemed to spread among Spanish-speaking areas suggests a cultural connection rather than a supernatural one.  Soon, physical evidence: footprint casts and, eventually, bones.  And while this is being looked into, a new question arises: is the chupacabras responsible for US cattle mutilations?  One vet declares that either there's a UFO/chupacabras thing going on, or some kind of cult is doing the "mutilations."  Skeptics remain unconvinced, and they have a landmark experiment to back them up.  Herb Marshall, a retired Arkansas sheriff, looked into the "mutilations" years ago -- by setting a trap for the culprits.  After a series of "mutilations" in 1979, he left a fresh carcass in a field and staked it out too see what would happen.  Then, they watched, working in shifts, and recorded what they saw.  They didn't find the expected buzzards, but the did find blow flies, which quickly stripped bloated organs with precision that rivaled wounds from surgery.  Within 48 hours, they had a typical "mutilation" corpse.  A vet confirms that such processes and natural scavengers -- flies, coyotes, buzzards -- can cause all the typical hallmarks of the chupacabras.  But what about those prints and chupacabras bones?  A Museum of Natural History scientist declares the prints to be "too good to be true," showing signs of being faked.  Scientists at the University of Nicaragua discover the supposed chupacabras carcass is actually that of a domestic dog.  Their conclusions drew anger from believers, and even threats.  Skeptics theorize that blaming an unknown animal makes harried farmers feel less personally responsible for loss of livestock.  But the 300 autopsies support the natural predator theory, showing signs of attack by such creatures as monkeys and large cats.  Eyewitness descriptions differ, too -- as if each witness is seeing something different.  Seeing may be believing, but believing is apparently also believing.  As of this show's production, there is no reliable scientific evidence supporting the existence of the chupacabras.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


History Channel - Original Air Date: 5-28-08

Similar to the Hogzilla show on National Geographic, this show looks at recent incidents of giant hogs in the southern United States.  Are these relics from a past age?  Hybrids?  Domestic animals gone wild?  Or merely exaggerated.  Pictures seem to support the existences of witness reports, and domestic hogs certainly get that big.  But can such a large hog survive or even thrive in the wild?  Examining the skull of one such monster seems to indicate it began life in a hog pen.  The show sets game cameras, traps, and even a 'critter cam" (attached to a wild hog) in an attempt to capture proof of the existence of mega hots.  Texas, a hotbed of hog activity, is the location for the search.  The experts involved quickly locate some hog packs and get some pictures that seem promising, so they set their trap.  And they catch a candidate for their critter cam.  They then have to stay close to the hog to get the live broadcast signal from the cam.  An animal expert shows that the big hogs killed were either domestic raised, or their size was overestimated by hunters.  (Would a hunter ever exaggerate his kill?)  Unfortunately, critter cam proves no luck with tracking down a mega hog, either.  Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, Hunters and wildlife wardens remain convinced that giant hogs are out there.  While another good show in the MonsterQuest series, I'm hoping that the rest of "season 2" will have more proof and less padding about the monsters they're questing for.

Friday, May 23, 2008

IS IT REAL? Russian Bigfoot

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005-6

Does a Neanderthal survive in the Russian wilderness? Is the almas a survivor of prehistoric times, a wildman, or the Russian bigfoot?  A Russian woman claims to have seen one such caveman during a camping trip.  But scientists want physical proof.  Other wildmen, like the Yeti and Yarin are mentioned -- but this Russian beast is supposed to be more human than those.  The show's cryptozoologist searches Mongolia for the almas.  Again, more witnesses, but no proof, and his motion camera, bait, and stakeout catch nothing.  He finds some interesting caves, but no signs of the creatures.  A historical account says a wild woman named Zanna (sp?) was captured and may have been an almas.  Fortunately, the skull of Zanna and her (half-human) son are available for examination, and our DNA expert from the Ape-Man show make a return appearance.  The DNA proves that Zanna and her son were modern humans, and their skulls look modern as well.  The scientists doubt that neanderthal's survive, but believers refuse to give up hope.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005-6

This show looks for the orang pendek of Sumatra, the meter-tall "little man of the forest."  The show sends an investigator out into the rain forest to try and capture the creature with photographic game traps.  Eyewitness accounts are, as usual, compelling--but is there any proof?  There are casts from prints, and a hair sample.  But could they be a hoax -- like Piltdown Man?  The show also looks at the Minnesota Ice Man (supposedly the work of a special effects house headed by a former Disney imagineer) and Oliver, the "missing link" chimp who now lives in a primate protection center.  A DNA test proves Oliver's mother was a central African chimp, and--disappointingly--his father was, too.  Oliver is just an odd-looking chimp.  Meanwhile, the supposed orang pendek prints are--in the opinion of one expert--not evidence of a new, bipedal primate.  But what about the hair?  The DNA sequence is human--though there is some chance it was contaminated by its collectors.  The photo traps turn up many interesting animals, but no orang pendek.  The search goes on.

IS IT REAL? Monsters of the Deep

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005-6

This show looks at sea and lake monsters from the Pacific shores to Nessie.  As usual, the show has a good survey of the evidence, including famous photos and the controversial Rines Loch Ness shots.  It also includes a complete (and convincing) explanation of the "Surgeon's Photo" hoax.  From there, they go to Lake Okanagan, home of the mythical Ogopogo.  There are plenty of reports, but scientific evidence is thin, and skeptics are unconvinced.  The editor of Skeptical Inquirer leads a team of Okanagan to investigate.  "Phantom waves," called seiches, seem a likely explanation -- both here and elsewhere; they're rare and they can look like a serpentine, living creature.  Divers and sonar turn up nothing, and a past sonar hit is suggested to be rotting tree.  But, Ogopogo has been captured on film many times, unlike most lake monsters.  Are any of the images proof positive, though?  They look at three strong examples, and recreate one using a thirty foot boat, which proves that the supposed creature was closer to the shore than estimated and, thus, neither so large nor as fast as supposed.  (This is a common problem with witness sightings in cases of uncanny events.)  An FBI film analyst looks at the films.  He suggests one is a fish, another movement of debris in the water, and a third waves.  But, what about sea monsters?  Most prove to be pieces of known creatures, like whale blubber.  Cadborasaurus--a water-breathing reptile--is believed to be a sea monster living off of the North American west coast.  Bill & Bob Clark claim to have seen the monster several times in San Francisco bay.  Unfortunately, their best footage looks like a flock of birds.  The film expert advises to look at evidence, not passionate witnesses.  Sadly, sea and lake monsters are a long way from being proven to exist.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

UFO HUNTERS - Hist. - Code Red

History Channel - Original Air Date: 4/30/08

This episode looks at reports of supposed UFOs over US Air Force bases.  The incident is an object (or objects) sighted at several locations on Edwards AFB and several nearby locations (5 areas altogether).  There are eyewitnesses and radio broadcasts from the time (Oct. 7, 1965).  The reports talk about UFOs (7 of them), and one of the air controllers says "We supposedly are having quite an invasion over here." Radar provides conflicting evidence, but people keep seeing strange lights in the night sky.  Aircraft tests seem unlikely, as the air controllers would have had to know about even secret flights in order to keep the airspace clear.  As one of the investigators points out, those scanning the night sky were looking for anything unusual, that could be called a UFO.  This does not mean the objects spotted, either visually or on radar, were alien craft; this was, after all, at the height of the cold war.  The team leader makes a big deal out of the base having a UFO officer -- though he seems to forget that UFO does not mean alien; it just means unidentified.  Official reports blame the sightings on weather balloons -- though the air controller doubts this explanation.  Eventually, an aircraft, an F-106, is sent to investigate.  The air controller tries to steer the plane to the UFOs, but they never catch up; the UFOs appear to be much higher than the plane, and then the UFOs vanish.  One expert believes that the objects were likely classified aircraft, possibly SR-71s or other secret projects.  The team then goes to check the official radar records, which were described by the military as unreliable because of weather conditions.  To at least one expert, the radar hits do not look like weather.  As to the radio reports, while the team leader claims, "The audio is the smoking gun," another member of the team points out that, "...There were a whole bunch of voices in that chatter that did not know what was going on."  That much, at least, is true.  And this, I think, shows clearly why scientists say that eyewitness stories are not evidence.

As usual with these historic reports, there's a lot of confusion at the time, and things haven't gotten any clearer since.  While "investigating" such reports may be good at building UFO mythology, it seems to serve little other purpose.  Remember, if you tell people to go out and look for strange things, they will find strange things -- even Air Force personnel are subject to this very human reaction. While something certainly had people excited that night, it seems unlikely that we will ever know for sure what those lights were.  Something strange happened, but the evidence for that something being alien craft is nearly zero.  If you want to hear these kind of UFO stories, watch this show; if you want investigation or some rational explanation for such encounters, forget it.  My best guess?  Test aircraft or high-altitude mirages/reflections.  As they say on Mystery Hunters, "Remember, things aren't always what they seem."